A decade after shooting, sam ashaolu still loves the game – cbc. ca _ metro morning

The Falstaff Community Centre, half a block away, is where basketball players from across the GTA come to do drills with Russell. “That day I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t get by him, I couldn’t shoot over him — anything like that. I knew that, in that moment, I knew it, I knew it,” he said. Getting back to basketball, somehow Russell is a mainstay of Grassroots Canada, a program that’s sent dozens of young basketball players to the U. S. on scholarships. Some of them — Dwight Powell, Tristan Thompson, Corey Joseph — have gone all the way to the NBA. Instead, Ashaolu not only got better very quickly, he has surprised


his doctors by improving every month.

People used to watch Ashaolu’s drills, marveling at the combination of size and dexterity. Ashaolu still does those drills every day. Ashaolu, who was born in Toronto and had attended Nelson A. Boylen Collegiate in the city’s north end, was badly wounded, and fragments of the two bullets ended up lodged in his brain. Except now, instead of hoping to make it to the NBA, Ashaolu hopes that someday he’ll be hired as a full-time coach, like Coach Russell. But most of all, he still loves basketball. Teaching kids the work ethic that even the most talented player can’t do without.

“I think it was 3 o’clock in the morning, I was sleeping, my phone was vibrating, it was ringing and ringing, there’d been a shooting, and Ashaolu was in the hospital,” the coach said. The moment he does remember vividly was about five or six months after the shooting, a scrimmage on the court, against a player he used to routinely out-perform. He would dress for the team again, but never would be able to play at a competitive level. He also remembers when Ashaolu was caught in a spray of bullets. He left the house in 30 seconds, he said, and rushed to be with Ashaolu’s family. But the balls roll away. Ten years ago, that wouldn’t have happened.

Ashaolu could have kept those balls going for 15 minutes at a time, through his legs, around his back, switching around the balls. Ashaolu doesn’t remember the shooting.

He doesn’t remember Coach Ro coming to the hospital. “A regular person watching the game thinks it’s easy, but it’s not easy, takes a lot of hard work,” he said. There have been moments of depression.

Ashaolu gets migraines still, the doctors never were able to remove a couple of bullet fragments from his brain. And he still does speech therapy. For Ashaolu, the most important thing was getting back onto the court. He was ambitious, driven to play again. One coach stood by him through the entire ordeal.

Coach Ro knows That the 24-year-old Ashaolu lived was considered remarkable by his doctors — some did not expect him to make it through the first 24 hours after being shot in the back of the head. As he clung to life for several days, family members were warned he might need supervised around-the-clock care the rest of his life. Toronto’s Sam Ashaolu, right, was among the Duquesne basketball players to attend a memorial in September to remember the shootings that left three players wounded. ((Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)) In Burlington, Ashaolu’s mother and oldest brother were waiting for him. The three of them drove through the night to Pittsburgh. But before playing a single game, tragedy struck.

He was returning from a party to the college’s student union when he was among five students shot. He was shot twice in the back of the head. Sam Ashaolu did not want to watch the NBA All-Star Game, he wanted to be in the game. “You’re just hoping he’s alive,” he remembered. “It was a tough drive going down, and you’re speculating, ‘What’s the damage?

‘” After the shooting Russell knows Ashaolu well. He remembers when Ashaolu was finished high school, he was offered 10 basketball scholarships from NCAA Division One schools. Russell knows better than anyone the drive and determination Ashaolu showed coming back from his injury. Before practice, Coach Ro Russell and Ashaolu often meet in the Timmy’s at Falstaff and Jane. Ashaolu photo from Duquesne. ((Duquesne University/Associated Press) ) About 10 years ago, Ashaolu attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, a Division One NCAA basketball team. He was a 6’ 7″ forward and the only Canadian on the team. “I’m super proud of Ashaolu, even though he went through what he went through. He was able to say, ‘I still need to go back to college and get my degree.

‘ That is so huge. Most people that’s the last thing on their minds,” he said. “But Ashaolu, he’s showing, if I can get my degree, anyone in this city can do it.” Every week, Russell and Ashaolu go to Chaminade, a Catholic high school a few blocks from Falstaff . And teaching another lesson, perhaps inadvertently, that part of being an elite athlete means never giving up, even when your dreams are damaged beyond repair. Coach Russell sends Ashaolu on to court to demonstrate the two-ball drill. Ashaolu lowers his frame — all 6’ 7″ — to the floor and gets into the drill.

He bounces two balls so close to the floor. To the average person, it would be impossible. Ashaolu was once an up and coming basketball star, among the best in Canada and probably a top prospect for the NBA.

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